Do NOT. Start. Off. With. A. Physical. Appearance. Or. Name.
Because maybe you decide your protagonist’s name has to be Jonathan. But every single Jonathan you’ve ever known is short-tempered. Or maybe your antagonist has red hair. And every red-haired person you’ve ever met is generous. The generalizations you’ve built up will affect your characters.
Start, instead, by giving them a need or a problem. What does he or she want? Love, courage, confidence, a high school diploma? What does he or she want to avoid? Pain, humiliation, poverty, spiders? Many good plots involve the protagonist overcoming the thing he wants to avoid to gain the thing he wants most.
Make your character suffer. Instead of spraining his ankle, break it. Instead of having the evil stepmother give in and let Cinderella go to the ball at the last second, have her lock Cinderella in the attic and throw the key down a cliff.
Here are a list of questions you can use to develop a character: (male gender as default)
- What is the gender?
- What is the setting?
- Who is the enemy?
- Who helps the character with his problems?
- How did the character make the enemy?
- What is the one thing the character would do anything to avoid? How does he avoid it?
- What is the one thing the character would do anything to obtain? How does he obtain it?
- What is the name and physical description?